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Citadel's Ken Griffin says Goldman Sachs people have this trait

Ken Griffin communicating at the LSE.

Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel and Citadel Securities, has conducted a lot of interviews. Since founding Citadel in 1990, Griffin estimates that he's interviewed "10,000 people."  Many were not hired: Bloomberg reported in August that Citadel received 69,000 applications for student jobs in Asia this year; it hired 13 of them.  

What makes a successful Citadel applicant? Away from impeccable academics, interesting side projects, and winning mathematics Olympiads, Griffin told students at the London School of Economics last week that he likes what Goldman Sachs likes: the ability to effectively make yourself understood.

"One thing that always matters to us at Citadel is communication skills," said Griffin. "Our colleagues are almost universally good communicators. We copied that from Goldman Sachs. If you look back 15 years, the people at Goldman Sachs were always more poised and articulate, and better able to express concepts.” 

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Good communication is important because it allows for the interrogation of concepts without falling into personal disagreements and biases. Griffin said that mathematics can only get you so far: “It's very easy for people to use math as a crutch to avoid deep thinking, but math alone doesn’t always get to the heart of causality. We need to answer that question.”  

Citadel hires good communicators, but it also teaches people how to communicate more effectively when they join. Interns at the firm are taught to speak out and to express their own ideas, even if they're at odds with ideas expressed by more senior staff. "When people are in a group environment, there's sometimes a tendency to smile and nod and to be hesitant about disagreeing," one Citadel intern told us last year. "That's the polar opposite of what you find here. If someone disagrees with you, they will let you know – not in an egotistical way, but they will say something like, 'I am not sure that I feel the same.’"

Speaking off the record, one ex-Goldman Sachs managing director says Goldman is characterized by similar, "high intensity debate." 

"There's always a lot of debate before the action and the decision then everyone is very disciplined in the execution," says the ex-Goldman MD. "People will argue their points with intensity backed up by data, but once a decision has been made, everyone is highly disciplined. No one will refuse to do their bit because they disagreed."

When he's hiring for Citadel, Griffin said he likes team players too.“We look for people who are accustomed to working together. Most of our people can debate with others inside our four walls, and the sum of that experience is greater than the parts.” It’s a mentality that he says is evidenced by those who play sports, who play in orchestras, or take part in other team-based pursuits.

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AUTHORSarah Butcher Global Editor

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